Professional Skipper – April 96 issue            back to articles menu

"Licensed to kill... or not, in NZ anyway"
You don't need a license to operate a pleasure boat in NZ. Here's just a couple of gems that lead me to believe that the situation needs to change... and soon.

Let me set the scene - which for any commercial skipper in Auckland will be all too familiar. Auckland Harbour, Anniversary Day, steaming down from Rangitoto light towards North Head. Late afternoon, full load of passengers. Boats of every size & shape all around and behind, and the view ahead just a seething mass of churned water, sails & hulls. Everybody going home, all trying to fit through the choke point between Bean Rock and North Head. Sooner or later, I’m going to have to cross through that lot to get to the berth and disembark the passengers.

I notice off to Port an unfinished keeler (no mast) motoring across from Northern Leading, heading sharper in to North Head, so sooner or later she will cross my course. She’s on my Port shoulder, making roughly the same speed as my 8.5 knots. We slowly converge, the bearing steady. Since she’s in my standing-on arc and only 50 metres away, I keep an eye on her and expect her to change course soon. At this point, if nothing changes, we will collide in about 2 minutes. I notice that the skipper of the boat and his Lady are standing in the stern cockpit, each with a glass in their hands. They are staring at me. Seconds go by.

The distance has now shrunk to 30 metres. I am keeping a careful eye on them, thinking about my weight, speed and stopping distances. I think of using the horn, but since they are staring right at me I can’t see any advantage in that yet and while the regs require me to hold course, I start peeling off some RPM’s. The intervening seconds have brought us closer. I’m now starting to think that this guy is playing chicken and will give way any second. I am much bigger and heavier, he will know that an impact with me will cause me little damage but will easily sink him. At 10 metres I give him a wake-up call on the horn, which brings no reaction whatever. I pay off to Starboard, anxious about other vessels coming up my Starboard side. We are now closing quite fast, even if the approach is side-to-side. I lean out the wheelhouse door, and shout down at the guy (that’s how close we are now) “I take it you are going to give way before we actually touch?”

With impeccable manners, he replies “Sorry old man. Can’t do that. Steering’s jammed in position....” I had enough time to get a little reverse thrust, and he disappeared under my stem at about 3 metres distance, popping out the other side, not looking back, chatting away to his Lady, and continuing to cause mayhem and chaos with many other boats as he went down the shallow side of 9 buoy and disappeared. Only God knows what finally happened to him.

I start edging over towards Bean Rock, and spot a Blue Boats tug-and-barge coming up from St Heliers way. Good stuff - here’s my Trojan Horse. All I have to do is sneak around the stern of the barge and hang off the Port quarter. Five minutes later I’m snug as a bug in a rug. He’s got right of way, and he’s got my ticket home. Wrong......

Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that a small keeler would challenge a tug-and-barge for right of way in the channel. I couldn’t see much from where I was - the first indication of trouble was the tug slewing round to Starboard, the barge catching her under the starboard quarter and shoving her dangerously sideways, me staying out of harms way, and in the middle of it all, catching sight of a mast and sail over the top of the tug. With masterful skill, the tug skipper got it all sorted, tow-line and barge straightened, and making way again. The keeler did a complete 360, and to my stunned amazement, then proceeded to try and go between the tug and the barge, only at the last moment coming to a complete stop just short of disaster. As we passed the keeler, its skipper looked up at me, pointed at the tug and shouted “typical arrogant bastard - what happened to power gives way to sail?” There really wasn’t anything constructive I could say at that point. What would you have said? Remember - I was carrying passengers.....

And finally, a little gem to finish off - Islington Bay, late afternoon, calm day. Sitting up on the foredeck in companionable silence, enjoying a quiet drink. Except for us, the Bay is deserted. The silence is broken by the noisy arrival of a 10 metre gin palace with eight people jammed into the flying bridge. Having the whole Bay to choose from, they roar over towards us, and stop with full reverse thrust amid a welter of spray and bow wave. We steady our glasses until the rocking settles. The ‘operator’ (I baulk at using the label ‘skipper’) pushes a button on the dash. The anchor drops straight down, as does the contents of the chain locker. Full astern is then engaged, and we crane our necks to follow his progress backwards at high speed across the bay, some 200 metres. With much vocal discord, he pushes another button and the anchor is drawn in. Full ahead, and he arrives alongside again. We steady our glasses.....

Suffice to say that this process is repeated exactly the same for a further three tries.

We then hear the ‘operator’ declare in a loud voice “you can’t anchor here”, and off they went, at full

speed. We resumed our conversation as if nothing had happened. And, in meaningful terms, nothing had.......

Licence, anyone?

Carpe Diem

Steve Punter ANZIM, Dip Bus (PMER), FHRINZ
Staff Training Associates Ltd, Auckland, New Zealand.
© Steve Punter 2001 All rights reserved by the author.                                                                                                                       back to articles menu